Joanna Goodman's Belle of the Bayou (The Porcupine's Quill, 176 pages, $16.95 paper) is a very different sort of quest novel-fast-paced, funny, and effervescent, with sharp and clever language and incisive imagery. Arabella Slominski Boot has just turned forty and her second husband, Roman, "[a] man who uses Listermint mouthwash as cologne and thinks foreplay is a golf stroke", presents her proudly with a day at the spa. Unfortunately for him, since he is too cheap to buy her more than the Bare Essentials package, Arabella arrives home early to find him sporting a dog collar while Tanya, Arabella's best friend, nestles in his armpit.
Having decided she's had enough of Roman's humiliations, Arabella and her son, Kenny, leave Montreal and head south to Lafayette, Louisiana, where her mother now lives with husband number three. Melva Cusper, "skinny as an Ex-ray", "abrasive as a scour pad on porcelain", and "shooting her mouth off like a cap gun", is the quintessential Mother from Hell. Her views about male-female relationships, which she tries tirelessly to force down Arabella's throat, are perhaps her nastiest legacy. Melva, who prides herself on being the Oldest Topless Waitress in the Bayou, virtually orders Arabella to flaunt her body, to use her "set of hooters" to get what she wants. The result for Arabella has been nothing short of painful: two unfaithful husbands, years of unaddressed self-esteem issues, and a constant preoccupation with her weight. It is this undercurrent of seriousness that pushes Goodman's book beyond the jocular and occasional lapse into caricature, and lends it an unexpected poignancy.